In an interview with school secretary, Fannie Cooper, she is very forthcoming when it comes to her views on gentrification, specifically when it comes to St. Catherine – St. Lucy School.
Mrs. Cooper, who has been employed by the school since 1995, has seen her fair share of change when it not only comes to the school, but the areas of Oak Park, Austin and Chicago.
I. The Introduction
Enter St. Catherine – St. Lucy School in Oak Park, Illinois. St. Catherine – St. Lucy’s story and background are interesting ones. The school has been a part of the culture of the Oak Park and Austin neighborhoods since 1889. It has attracted students not only from both areas, but all over the Chicago-land areas as well.
St. Catherine – St. Lucy also holds an interesting distinction when it comes to the school. The school is a predominantly African-American Catholic institution, and it is a fact that they are very proud of.
In areas such as Oak Park and Austin, where opportunities for redevelopment and gentrification are common, St. Catherine – St. Lucy School has remained predominantly African-American and continues to serve the community at a high level and prosper.
Several members of the school, including the Co-Principal, Mrs. Sharon Leamy, Mrs. Cooper and various teachers who have been with the institution for a long period of time are proud of that fact.
Students study together as class is in session. A safe environment and small class sizes are promoted by the school when encouraging residents of the surrounding areas to enroll their children there. (February 21, 2018 – Photo: Steven Johnson)
Mrs. Elaine Podraza, a retired instructor who taught at St. Catherine – St. Lucy School for 27 years, reads to her students in the school’s library. Mrs. Podraza volunteers at the school for two days a week. (February 21, 2018 – Photo: Steven Johnson)
During the season of Lent, students create drawings to honor the religious tradition. The school is very proud of their history and rich tradition when it comes to Catholic education. (February 21, 2018 – Photo: Steven Johnson).
Ms. Brooke Young, the school’s second-grade teacher, shared her thoughts on how she feels gentrification will not be felt by St. Catherine – St. Lucy School due to the history behind the school and how it appeals to the children of the Austin area.
She feels that, while gentrification could reach the area at some point, the school will continue to find ways around it and still thrive.
II. The Location Theory
Mrs. Elaine Podraza taught second grade, first grade and Kindergarten at St. Catherine – St. Lucy School for 27 years. After her retirement in 2012, she decided to come back to volunteer in the library for two days a week.
Mrs. Podraza, feels that the location of the school helps the institution, tremendously. She also feels that the parents of the students feel their children will receive a better education than the public schools located in the Chicago area.
As stated above, it is in the Oak Park area, but serves the Austin community and also attracts students from all over the city of Chicago.
According to Data USA, when it comes to the city of Oak Park, roughly 63.7 percent of its population is Caucasian. 20.2 percent is African-American, and 7.36 percent are Hispanic. 12.8 percent of the people that reside in the city speak a non-English language and 95 percent of the residents are U.S. citizens.
Between 2014 and 2015, the population of Oak Park grew from 51,988 to 52,080 – a 0.18 percent increase. The city’s median household income grew from $78,895 to $80, 196 – a 1.65 percent increase. Oak Park is the 28th most populated city in the state of Illinois out of 1,366 cities.
The area is diverse enough to where different ethnicities can feel comfortable sending their children to the St. Catherine – St. Lucy School, but the percentages and data show that the area is a prime spot for gentrification and redevelopment.
The population rose and the city’s median household income grew, which shows the area is popular and that families feel it is a good area to raise their children and live there. It also shows that more people, who are fortunate enough to earn an above middle class living, are migrating to the area.
Right on the border of Oak Park and Austin, St. Catherine – St. Lucy School’s marquee encourages those who may pass to register their children at their institution. The address proudly claims Oak Park. (February 21, 2018 – Photo: Steven Johnson)
In a promotional banner located in front of the school’s gymnasium, the school proudly claims their service of the Austin and Oak Park neighborhoods for over 125 years. (February 21, 2018 – Photo: Steven Johnson)
Inside the school, the bulletin board proudly displays newspaper clips from The Voice Newspaper, a publication that is based in the Austin and Garfield/Lawndale area. (February 21, 2018 – Photo: Steven Johnson)
Mrs. Sharon Bryant, the school’s third grade teacher who has taught at the school for over 20 years, sat down for an interview.
In the interview, she describes how she hopes the school is a part of the gentrification process of Oak Park because she feels the school has done their part to bring people, of all ethnicities, together.
III. No Borders Here
How does St. Catherine – St. Lucy School continue to thrive being a predominantly African-American school in the Oak Park area?
When looking at the location theory, which is the theory that the area is close enough to the city of Chicago, but also tucked away far enough in suburban areas (like Oak Park and Austin), that parents are comfortable sending their children there. The co-Principal of the school, Mrs. Sharon Leamy, is very proud of what St. Catherine-St. Lucy School is and she hopes the school will continue to thrive as a predominantly African-American school.
Leamy is proud that the school continues to not only thrive as a predominantly African-American school, but also because it is welcoming to anyone. She wants the school to continue to grow as a Catholic institution that is for everyone.
Leamy feels that gentrification and redevelopment will not be a cause for concern when it comes to the school.
She feels that the school actually will benefit from potential change in the area and that students and families from not just Oak Park but Austin and the rest of the Chicago land area will continue to be a part of the St. Catherine – St. Lucy School culture.
If change to the area is going to happen, Leamy is not concerned because St. Catherine – St. Lucy School has proven that it will stand the test of time. If anything, it will just attract more families and students to the institution.
A message for the students and faculty who walk the stairs at St. Catherine – St. Lucy School. (February 21, 2018 – Photo: Steven Johnson)
In honor of Black History Month, students created designs of their heroes and heroines. These include Michael Jordan, Barack and Michelle Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Michael Jackson. (February 21, 2018 – Photo: Steven Johnson)
The Captain of the Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews, has some words of encouragement for the students and faculty of St. Catherine – St. Lucy School. (February 21, 2018 – Photo: Steven Johnson).
The school and the Chicago Blackhawks have partnered up to reward students for excelling in their studies. Every time a student reaches a certain amount of pages read, they are honored. One student was able to attend a Blackhawks game this season because of their achievement. (February 21, 2018 – Photo: Steven Johnson)
St. Catherine – St. Lucy School, simply put, continues to stand the test of time. In an era where gentrification and redevelopment is common, a predominantly African-American school has withstood and embraced it. The school prides itself on being open to anyone, and most importantly, serving anyone. It is why students and families from Oak Park, Austin and all over the city of Chicago, continue to attend the school and enjoy their experiences.